Spring: six months after leaving the Monastery, half a world away.
Sunar leaned against the wall next to the door and watched a drunk stumble his way up to the bar. The human, one of the biggest he’d ever seen, slammed money down on the wood and staggered slightly, then loudly demanded more whiskey.
Sivias, the half-orc barkeeper, ignored him for the moment and took care of another customer who had been sitting, patiently, and waiting for his order. It was the end of the work week, and the place was crowded. The reeling drunk didn’t seem ready to force an issue immediately, so he turned his attention to the rest of the bar.
I had planned to leave here six weeks ago, but something in Sivias’s manner whenever I speak of leaving holds me. He hasn’t asked me to stay, exactly, but there is fear in his eyes every time. Come to think of it, there was fear in his eyes when he recognized my brands as being from a temple. I’d thought he’d been afraid of monks for some reason, but then he asked me to be a bouncer instead of sweeping the floor.
I have to admit my skills are well suited to the job: observe, act, quietly remove problems. Sivias is a good guy, too, and seems to genuinely care about his patrons and his employees.
Still, it is time for me to move on. I have learned a lot from this job, both about how people interact out here and some interesting take-downs from the other bouncer. I will talk to Sivias tomorrow, give him a few weeks to get someone. An image of Sivias’s eyes and the fear in them came to mind, and he sighed inwardly. I will also ask him, directly, what it is he’s scared of. Maybe I can…
Something changed in the timber of the room. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was… happening. He swept the room with his gaze and found nothing amiss, so he took a deep breath, and let all thought leave with the air as he slowly exhaled. His eyes began to dart around the room, looking for anything strange. He began to filter noises out from his hearing. The music first, the general static noise of so many shouted conversations second, the sounds of people moving and eating next.
THERE. A zipper – a long zipper, too long for even a winter coat, being pulled slowly so as not to attract attention. Where is the sound coming from? There, under that table with the lone patron. I did not see that duffle bag come through the front door. I don’t like the look of this.
He started to move towards the table, but something about the drunk’s movements caught his eye. The drunk had noticed him moving away from the door and stuck his hand in his pocket. Sunar felt some sort of low-key magic effect happen as the drunk pounded the bar several times, demanding that the bartender bring him a drink.
Sivais caught Sunar’s eye and motioned toward the drunk, then turned and informed the man that he was being cut off. The man demanded a drink and started making threats, but his movements were not quite right. The magic. He’s no longer drunk!
Sunar glanced at the man with the bag, to find him moving towards Sivais’s office with the bag still sitting under the table. He looked back at the ‘drunk’ to find the man staggering towards him. Glad I paid attention the last few weeks while I worked here.
He almost believed the man could still be drunk, but his movements were just a little too controlled. He ducked a wild swing while he gathered his ki, then channeled the energy into a stunning fist.
The guy looked shocked as he dodged the sucker-punch without breaking his stride towards the now-empty table. His opponent tried to grab at him. He lashed out with a foot and while releasing his gathered ki into the man’s stomach. Big and no-longer-drunk folded like paper and lay still.
Sunar tucked his wings in and moved through the crowd. Sivais yelled something at him about ‘force escalation’. He gave his boss their hand signal for ‘danger’ and pointed him to the office while he worked his way to the table with the bag. End-of-week crowds made it difficult to get through, even with his skills.
He tuned his hearing on the bag, and worked to block everything else out as he moved. He finally heard a single mechanical ‘click’ and a … hissing noise? He pulled on his ki again and did a pass-through-walls step to bypass the crowd and dove under the table.
He began to feel woozy as he noticed a small tube pointed out from the duffel bag. The hissing sound is coming from there. He held exhaled sharply, held his breath, and jammed his finger into the tube. The hissing sound stopped, so he ducked his head further away from the table and took a slow breath.
The tired feeling did not increase, so he took a moment to center and clear his head, then turned back to look at the bag. A couple of quick movements and he found the could lift it without too much trouble, so he made for the back alley.
Thankfully the back door had a crash-bar. Once in the alley he decided not to risk the zipper and unsheathed his claws to tear open the bag. The ‘bomb’ turned out to be a gas canister with a valve. He saw nothing that looked like an igniter.
That gas could be something deadly, or just something intended to make everyone pass out. There is just no time. Fake-drunk should be getting up about now, and I don’t want Sivais facing that guy in the office alone.
The valve on the tank closed easily enough, so Sunar set the package down and hurried back inside just before the door closed on him. He couldn’t see fake-drunk, and decided that making sure Sivias didn’t end up shot had priority over making sure the designated distraction didn’t escape.
The office door stood open. He charged through to find Sivias being held at gunpoint by bag man. The stranger tried to turn his gun, but Sunar had a lifetime of training behind him.
His foot kicked the gun to point up in the air. As his foot came down he surged forward and drive his hand into the man’s cheek. The stranger tried to bring the gun back in line when he should have dodged, and took the full blow. Bone crunched under Sunar’s hand and the man went down.
Sivias stood there and shook his head, his eyebrows raised, as he looked back and forth between the man on the floor and Sunar. “Son, you aren’t even breathing hard, and I saw all of what you did. My best waitresses can’t get across that floor so quickly on a crowded night, and that is before you did whatever that teleport thing was. I am sure glad I recognized those marks on your arm.”
Sunar nodded and bent to make sure that bag-man was alive, then stood and faced Sivias. “I remember you seemed awful relieved when I was willing to take the job, and have seemed more and more on edge every day since. This wasn’t some random attack, and I am assuming that whatever gas was in that canister is meant to do some real harm.”
He gave the man his best penetrating stare. “What, exactly, is going on?”
Sivias visibly balked, and for a moment he thought the man was going to try to tell him that he didn’t owe an employee any such explanations. Instead the man seemed to deflate, slowly, and sank down into a chair. “I really didn’t think it would come to something like this, not yet. I thought I’d have enough time.”
The half-orc waved a hand at the man on the ground, “This is a ‘message’ from a local thug who managed to get himself a few other thugs together and started making trouble. Made enough of a name for himself – mostly loan-sharking and protection rackets – to draw the attention of one of the larger criminal organizations, and then talked himself into being absorbed into their organization rather than being muscled out.
“And, before you start asking, yes, I paid the bloody protection money for years. What the guy asked for was very small, in reality, and he also provided a real service: the couple of times I had issues with petty crooks coming in here and stealing from me or working the crowd he was a lot more help than the useless pricks who call themselves cops in this part of town.
“Once he got rolled into the larger organization, though, things changed. He kept asking for more and more money every month, and suddenly couldn’t be bothered when I had real issues. I started refusing to pay the increases, then finally refused to pay at all when one of my bouncers had to toss the same pick-pocket the third night in a row and I was told it was ‘beneath notice’.”
Sunar shook his head, “So, that’s why you hired me? In anticipation of trouble?”
“Pretty much. The money he is asking for now… it would bankrupt me in just a few months. His answer to that was that he had various ‘opportunities’ that would allow me to make some off-the-books money to take care of it.” The large green man shook his head, “I run an honest business Sunar. Tossing a few coins to a thug because the police can’t be bothered with a low-rent part of town is one thing. Running guns, stolen merch – or worse – through here? Not a chance.”
Sunar lifted an eyebrow at ‘or worse’, inviting him to explain, but Sivias just shook his head. Sunar took a look at the monitors at the crowd outside, then back at the injured man. “Ok, so who is this thug, and where can I find him?”
Sivias put up his hands, “No, man. That isn’t a good idea. Bobby Finkle is… protected now, by one of the larger mobs in this city. They have a good portion of the cops on their payroll, and trying to mess with him isn’t a good idea.
“Things have been getting bad around here: those crime lords have managed to get their fingers into the local politicians and the cops, and things are going downhill fast. I just want out, but I don’t quite have the money to do it. I only have six months left on my current lease for this place, by which time I will have enough money that – if I sell everything in here off – I will be able to move. I am supposed to sign the lease for the new place over in Aklan next week.”
Just then a movement on the monitors caught their attention. The poor guy who’d been hired to help at the bar didn’t seem to be keeping up, and the crowd had grown restless. Sivias looked at him, “Look, I need to get back out there. Dump this idiot in the alley with that bomb, or whatever it was, and get back to your place, we will sort this out later.”
Sunar picked the man up and looked Sivias in the eye, “James is still out there to bounce for you, and he should be able to handle anything else for now. It is not like these guys are going to try anything else tonight. Meanwhile, I have a better idea.”
They stared hard at one another for a while, and Sivias sighed. “I don’t suppose I can talk you out of it?”
Sunar shook his head. They left the office, and went in separate directions.